Today was one of the most spectacular fall color days we have had in the High Country in several years. The weather was perfect, starting off with temperatures in the mid-30s and only getting to the mid-50s, with clear blue skies. I’ll say up front that we are at peak color above 3,000’ elevation in the Blowing Rock to Chestoa overlook section of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Colors will continue looking good through to next weekend, although there is a forecast for rain and possible thunderstorms on Thursday. If that happens, we may lose some leaves for next weekend, but hopefully they will be scattered and most areas will retain their leaves.
The red colors, where they are abundant, are very vibrant this year, a result of the cooler weather we saw in mid- to late September which, fortunately, persisted into October. It also helped that we had mostly sunny skies too. Those are the ideal conditions for having bright fall colors and for the fall color season to be on time, which it is this year. In fact, I would say it’s a few days ahead of normal.
There is still green at or below 3,000’ elevation, but colors can be seen all the way down to 2,000’ and a couple I met on the trail today told me that colors are coming along nicely right in Asheville itself, which is a good two weeks earlier than usual.
Birch trees, which turn yellow, are especially bright this year, and large stands of them are providing great color on the hillsides now. Sugar maples are doing especially well this year, and provide an orange/yellow display that contrasts with the vivid red of red maples. Striped maples, an understory tree, are turning a bright yellow, as are American Chestnuts. Witch hazel also turn yellow, with brown stripes, and they are coloring up also and are in bloom now (one of the few woody plants to bloom in the fall). Additionally, Fraser firs are turning now, and they briefly become light green to yellow before quickly transforming over to chocolate brown. Sumacs are in peak red color as are fire cherries. Sassafras continue to turn and hickories and several oak species, especially those growing on rocky outcrops, are turning now. Hickories turn a dull yellow color, while chestnut oak turns yellow and black/red/scarlet oaks turn deep red.
Galax, one of my favorite plants, is a perennial native wildflower with thick, tough, evergreen leaves that can form large clones on the forest floor. Usually a waxy green, they turn red when exposed to high light during cold periods. For the past several years I haven’t found many leaves turning red in October, due to high temperatures, but this year, I’m already seeing a number of clones with red leaves.
Based on my observations here, I suspect colors are also great down in the Highlands/Cashiers area, and along the higher elevations on the Parkway from the Smokies north to Craggy Gardens. After several years of delayed and somewhat dull fall colors, we are having one of our best years in a long time. So, if you can get out this week, come on up. If I had to pick a 24 hr period for the peakiest peak colors, I’d select this Wednesday, but in reality, all week will be at peak, and areas still a little green will quickly color up through to next weekend.
I’m going to post my pictures in batches, since I took 300+ today, some of which are the best I’ve ever taken (in my humble opinion). One of the reasons the pictures are so good is that I took the advice I give prospective visitors – get out early and take photos then, because when the sun is at a low angle in the sky, the color saturation is so much better than if you wait until midday.
Today I left the house at 6 am and was at the Chestoa overlook just after 7 am to catch the sun rising over Table Rock Mountain. Then, I headed north toward the Linn Cove Viaduct (I didn’t have time to stop off at Linville Falls, but that would be a great stop if you come up). I stopped at Beacon Heights, which was full with people who wanted to catch the sun rise from the large rock outcrops at the summit. Then, I got back on the Parkway and headed toward the viaduct, but before getting there, I parked in the Stack Rock lot and took the hike to the rock and beyond. This is a rigorous, albeit short (0.2 miles) hike to a large rock called Stack Rock. At first, I thought, what a bummer, as there were no good views there, but then I discovered that the trail continues on beyond the rock, and there are wooden steps and a bridge to take you farther into the woods. After a bit of a hike you get to a cliff that is fenced to keep you from falling off, and from that part of the trail you can take beautiful pictures of colorful forests and Stack Rock itself. Interestingly, the trail wanders along and beneath the Linn Cove Viaduct, so you can get a very different perspective on that structure on this trail. The trail continues on for another 2.5 miles, and then you have to turn around and come back. I didn’t attempt to do the entire trail today. It is a rigorous hike, with lots of roots and rocks, so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Then, back in the car, over the Viaduct and on to the Yonahlosee Overlook and then the Rough Ridge trail. Today, I hiked all the way to the top of Rough Ridge and was rewarded with great views and great fall color. If you want, there is a side trail at the top that you can take all the way back to the Linn Cove Visitor Center (about 4 miles), but if you want to do that, you should have a car at Rough Ridge and another one at the visitor center, or otherwise you going to have quite a hike back.
I stopped once again at Price Lake to see how the colors there have changed since last Tuesday, and I’m glad I did, as they were at peak condition today. My last stop was at the Cone Manor just north of Price Lake. The National Park Service has spent the last several years fixing up the manor house and it is now freshly painted and repaired and looks better than it ever has in all the 36 years I have been in the High Country. They did a great job on it. Even better, they have opened up the second floor so you can tour around and see all the bedrooms (and bathrooms!), plus the kitchen in the back on the first floor.
Those were different times when Moses Cone built the manor house (right at the turn of the 20th century). For example, white servants were housed on the third floor, where there are five bedrooms (you can’t go up there though). However, African-American servants weren’t allowed to stay in the manor house and the Cones provided them with two separate homes not far away, one for males, one for females. One of those houses was preserved by the NPS and now houses interns working at the place. The manor house was the first one with electric lights and it had hot and cold running water.
I did all this from 6 am to noon and back home in time for lunch! So, come on up! Some of the best color in years is peaking now!
For the picture captions, you will have to view this posting on the Fall Color Guy page on Facebook.